By Jeremy Balan
The highlight of Frankie Ferrari’s early Riordan basketball career came on a night where he couldn’t buy a bucket for the first 31 minutes and 55 seconds of game time against Bellarmine.
After starting the game 0-of-7 from the field, Ferrari showed no hesitation with the game tied in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Against a straight-forward, man-to-man defense, the junior shooting guard took the ball up the court, bluffed a drive to create space, then pulled up and drained a three-pointer with 5 seconds remaining to give Riordan a 47-44 West Catholic Athletic League win over the Bells at Crusader Forum on Saturday night.
“The moment presented itself,” Ferrari said. “I brought it up the court, he took a step off and it was open, so I let it go. No matter how you’re shooting game is going, you just have to think about making the next shot. That’s what it takes to have a shooter’s mentality.”
Seconds before Ferrari’s strike, the best shooter in the WCAL put the Crusaders (14-8, 5-7) on their heels.
With Riordan leading 44-41 in the final minute, the Bells (15-7, 5-7) struggled to get an open look on the perimeter, but eventually got the ball into the hands of Navy-bound senior Grant Vermeer. With the shot clock winding down, Vermeer nailed a step-back, fadeaway three-pointer from the left-hand wing with 15 seconds remaining to knot the score at 44-44.
“My heart sunk into my underwear for about 5 seconds, but we played great defense on that possession,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “Guys were moving hard and were committed to keeping them in front of us. The shot clock was winding down and this guy hits a step-back three in the corner with a hand in his face. You just gotta tip your hat at that point and that’s why he’s going to the Naval Academy.”
But the Bells’ prospects of overtime turned into feelings of dread when Ferrari hit from distance 10 seconds later.
“We were thinking, just get a stop, just get a stop, and we have overtime,” said Bellarmine head coach Patrick Schneider. “Frankie made a great play. He made a hard sell on a drive to the basket and we had a great defender on him. I mean, we shut him out the whole game.”
The Bells still had an opportunity to equalize with 4.5 seconds remaining (Schneider called a timeout immediately after Ferrari’s shot), but had to inbound the ball from under their own basket. The pass went to Bellarmine guard Danny Schatzman, and the senior got across the timeline with relative ease, but his running 25-footer at the buzzer hit hard off the backboard and caromed off the rim.
Riordan did everything it could to stop the Bells from taking a shot and wanted to foul Schatzman before he could get into a position to shoot. Riordan senior point guard Geru Mabrey even visibly pulled on Schatzman’s jersey as his crossed mid-court, but the senior escaped and just got the shot off in time.
“We wanted to foul and Geru got a hold of a lot of jersey. I mean, I saw a lot of cloth flying backwards, but they didn’t call it,” Buckner said. “He actually got off a good look from about 25 feet and that’s exactly what we didn’t want. We wanted to send them to the [free-throw] line, put our big guys in and box out, because we knew they were going to try to make the first and miss the second.”
Ferrari’s late-game heroics spoiled what was a torrid shooting night for Vermeer. The senior scored 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the floor (5-of-9 from three-point range) and the Bells struggled to score when the ball wasn’t leaving Vermeer’s hands. The rest of the Bells shot 23 percent from the floor and 0-for-8 from three-point range.
“A lot of the time, we’re at our best when we’re balanced, but he is capable of doing this,” Schneider said of Vermeer. “That’s what gives us our balance – not that he always does this, but he has the potential to do this. That’s what opens things up for other guys . . . We just didn’t get other guys to make shots and we had six free throws from two guys, and they didn’t make a single one. There were points we left on the table.”
Riordan junior guard Jiday Ugbaja had the task of defending Vermeer for almost all of the game, but also quietly scored a team-high 12 points and had three assists in the third quarter. The first assist, which set up a layup from junior Bobby Arenas, gave the Crusaders their largest lead of the game at 25-18 early in the third quarter.
“I’m pretty happy with Jiday’s play tonight,” Buckner said. “He was smothering Vermeer. Even though he had a ton of points tonight, he had to work for them – coming off a ton screens, running around like crazy. Both of those guys should be tired and sleeping well tonight.”
Jiday was the only Riordan player to score in every quarter, but early on, it was his cousin, Chiefy Ugbaja, that carried the load. The 6-foot-3 junior forward scored all of his 10 points in the first half, took in a game-high nine rebounds, had four blocks and battled in the paint with Bellarmine’s deep rotation of tall and bulky forwards.
Riordan led for most of the first quarter, but Bellarmine took a 16-9 lead early in the second on the strength of a 9-0 run. The Crusaders immediately responded with their own 12-0 run and led 21-18 at the halftime break.
“We might have been down by double digits at halftime [if not for Chiefy’s play],” Buckner said. “His motor and his athleticism is off the charts to the point where he can play through some of his rawness – his missed shots, his missed layups and his free throws – but he played through that with his blocked shots, sprinting the floor and a couple of putbacks.”
Chiefy would have surely tallied a double-double if not for an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter that knocked him out of the game. After the win, all of the Crusaders rushed into the training room to check up on their teammate and Bucker said after the game that he sustained a “mild to moderate sprain.”
Jiday Ugbaja – 12
Chiefy Ugbaja – 10
Bobby Arenas – 8
Zach Masoli – 7
Frankie Ferrari – 5
Grant Vermeer – 27
Mendy Blair – 9
Danny Schatzman – 4
Nathan Thomas – 2
Isaac Gayles – 2